Tuesday, 14 July 2015

She sells seashells.....

Before I launch into a description of my most recent project, an update on my last blogpost.   

I said I thought I had garden chairs and seats - I hadn't anticipated finding nine tiny chairs and three garden seats!   

And then, joy of joys, Zoe, a visitor from Dolls Houses Past and Present, came on Sunday to see Small Worlds, and had tucked some Britain's beans, complete with poles, and a bed of cabbages and another of cucumbers into her luggage - I didn't even know Britain's had made cucumbers and I was thrilled to put them straight into the garden.   

I hope she and her husband enjoyed their visit as much as I did - thanks to both of you for braving the bus from Prague.

My most recent project in Small Worlds was a matter of necessity.   At long last I have decided to tackle the Essex Pub...well, what was formerly known as the Essex Pub.   It is actually a 1920s Triang house, model number 80,  like this one, and I have owned it for many, many years.   It came to me in an appalling state. It may in fact have been one of the houses that I acquired forty years ago as a result of the advertisement in our local paper seeking "a large old dolls house".   The house was intended for my daughter, now best known to you as Butterfly, because I could find nothing in the shops that remotely resembled my own much-loved-and-lost dolls house.

I ended up with four or five large old houses, Butterfly got none of them, and of those I think I still own two.   Both will feature at some point in a blogpost.   Butterfly's own house is now played with almost daily with great delight by little Czech children, as it has pride of place in the Children's Corner.

Having moved the large Triang to the worktable where it is taking up most of the available working space, I was left with a substantial gap on the shelves precisely where people come into the museum.   I needed two small houses to fill it - the first was easy.   The half-scale American Fairfield house had been dislodged from its space on the window sill when the patisserie moved back into the display, having been in the "shop" window at the end of last summer.

So the Fairfield was perched on the corner of the worktable, where people could easily see and rotate it.  But I now needed that space to work in so it moved to half of the available space.  

But what to put in the rest of it?   Small Worlds was due to open in a few days and so it had to be something I could make quickly.

I was looking for something in the play/guest/craft room back at my house and spotted the little Tudor shop sitting on the bookshelves where it had been banished at some point last year.

This was our very first dolls house kit.   I remember buying it well over 30 years ago at a small dolls house fair, I think at the Polka Dot Theatre in Wimbledon.   It sticks in my memory because this is where I first met Caroline Hamilton who had a stall there with her friend Judith James, whose dolls we promptly fell in love with......

By the way, I can't wait to visit the new display at Newby Hall in Yorkshire which consists of the collections of both Caroline and her friend Jane Fiddick.

(A question - I wonder if anyone in the dolls house world knows the whereabouts of Judith James?   For a while she ran a toyshop in Keswick but she seems to have disappeared now.   I should love some more dolls.....)

The little Tudor shop - to be seen squashed in the middle of the second row from the bottom on the poster, has in its time played many parts.   Butterfly reminded me that its very first incarnation was as a replica of a replica.....

Way back in 1949, when I was just seven,  I was taken to Harrods to see their centenary display, part of which was a construction, in the Banking Hall, of a replica of the original Harrods shop.   It made a huge impression on me and it was the first use to which we put the kit.

Since that time it has been a Christmas shop, a haberdashers and finally Millie the Milliner's.   Now it was being called upon for yet another transformation.

I had racked my brains for something that I had in abundance which I could use for stock and realised that in the drawers were many shells - and little stones - and fossils.  Much scrabbling in drawers and boxes, both in Small Worlds and at home, followed the thought and I was impressed by how much emerged.

I then made a wonderful discovery which is that in the world of stones, shells and fossils scale does not matter!   After all, in the real world shells range in size from minute - witness some of those in my collection - to pretty large!  

And as for stones - well they go from pea gravel to giant rocks.  I have tiny fossils in the collection - in fact father in the Victorian Walmer house has a cabinet full in his study - but I also have a clear recollection of my Dutch friend Irmel - the one who thatched the large cottage - getting up at dawn in Whitby so that she could finish excavating a giant ammonite before the tide turned and covered it up again.

This happy thought left me free to use pretty well everything I could find which meant that the shop filled up rapidly.

The first thing to do however, was to give the shop a makeover.   The golden sand covered walls and blue door and window background just happened, I wasn't really consciously thinking about it, but it turned out to be the right colour scheme.   

A charity shop bag full of dolls house items yielded up a set of shelves 

but the shells did not really show up very well against the white shelving

so I turned them dark brown with the help of some modelling paste to roughen the surface and some acrylic paint. 
(Butterfly does it better....)  

I also found a fair number of tumbled stones, as well as the raw pebbles. 

I dismantled a bracelet, a recent charity shop buy, and popped the results into a shell which had been around for years.   

Things were starting to come together nicely;  the old shop counters could be reused with a strategic poster placed to partly cover up a strange stain - and I knew that napkin ring would come in useful one day! 

More posters for one wall... 

a large agate for the wall opposite

and finally a use for the glass jar of coloured sand brought back by one of my children after a school trip to the Isle of Wight in the dim and distant past.   That's why I never throw anything away!

I realised that I was going to have to raise the little shop otherwise only the smallest children would be able to see inside so I decided to use one of the footstools which just happened to colour match the rest of the museum shelving.   But something needed to go beneath it.

 Another charity shop buy, two fishermen, had a quick change of profession and have now become shell collectors, ensuring a constant supply of stock for the shop.   Some of you may recognise the beach huts from a previous project.

Balancing the shells on the shelves was what the Czechs would term piplačka work -decidedly fiddly - but when I finally had everything in place I was quite pleased with the results.   I leave you with a series of photos of the finished product and hope that you have enjoyed this reminder of summer seaside holidays.

I was delighted when last week a boy of about ten spent a very long time examining the whole thing in the minutest detail - his mother explained that he already had a large collection of shells and fossils at home.   He confidently identified much of the stock.

I was less delighted when a little girl exclaimed with some asperity that a few of my favourite shells did not hail from the seaside at all but were clearly snail shells from my garden.....even in miniature, it pays to be accurate!

Thank you for following a further stage in this museum journey - and if you would like a video peak at Small Worlds then click on the TV Prachen picture on the right hand side of the page near the top - I'm afraid the commentary is all in Czech though......


  1. This is a delightful transformation!! Do you leave the items loose on the shelves? (I imagine you to be forever replacing them if so..)

    1. They seem to be safe enough once you have got them into position. Someone bumped into it last week and only one shell fell off the back shelves...

  2. Such a wonderful posts with amazing ideas as always and lots of fun along the way.

    Love Chrissie xx

  3. Steve and I had a fabulous day with you Cestina and I can certainly recommend a visit to Small Worlds to anyone who might find themselves in Prague. It was so nice to see the projects I've followed on this blog in real life where they are even better! The shell shop is wonderfully inventive and effective - love it. Thank you again for your kind hospitality during our visit. Steve & Zoe xx

  4. It's a real chameleon of a shop. It must be in one of those locations where nobody can make it work for long before it changes hands again. I hope the new incarnation will last a while!

  5. It's a while since I checked your site. As usual, I am bowled over by what you do. It's a real compliment to say it brings tears to my eyes.

  6. All those little seashells and tiny stones are perfect in their new home! It's such a fantastic project.

  7. A very late comment, sorry:

    I love this shop and its supporting suppliers. Now then - the only thing that would make it better is a nearby cliff, with a tiny Mary Anning (accompanied by her dog, of course) carefully excavating a tiny ichthyosaur.

    You're welcome

    Andrea x